Chicago Implements Shorter Yellow Lights to Increase Their Red Light Ticket Revenue

They’ve shortened the yellow lights ever so slightly, but you might be surprised by how much revenue has increased, because the red light cameras were catching people turning in an intersection while the light turned red. That counts as a red light violation.

I think most people understand that speed and red light cameras are all about making money. In D.C., they pulled in about $79 million a couple years ago, but revenue fell last year to about $75 million. What this means is that people aren’t running as many red lights, and they’re not speeding like they used to. But that’s not any concern to public officials. To them, all that’s happening is they’re losing money.

Chicago and some other cities have found a way to circumvent these drivers. An article in Time highlighted this tactic:

Earlier this year, the city [Chicago] began issuing tickets to motorists who drove through yellow lights that turned red fractions of a second shorter than the three-second city minimum. The change was slight, but the effect for the cash-starved city was real: nearly $8 million from an additional 77,000 tickets, according to the city’s inspector general.

All of those $100 tickets were issued after cameras installed at intersections caught the drivers as they passed through. These systems, known as red light cameras, are an increasingly controversial tactic for policing roadways. Established in the name of public safety, critics contend the cameras have become little more than a way for municipalities to funnel money into their coffers.

“If the machine is set to catch more people and generate more revenue, then it does not really seem to be about safety but about revenue,” says Joseph Schofer, a professor of transportation at Northwestern University.

That extra $8 million is nothing to sneeze at. That’s a good bit of money going to the city. But city officials swear that it has nothing to do with the money. Sure. They deliberately shortened the yellow lights for safety reasons. How does that even make sense?